you're reading...
Check and Balance, Synergy, The Moral Mind In Action

Response to “Conservatives Good, Republican Party Bad”

NOTE:  Haidt has published a follow-up to his “Conservatives Good, Republican Party Bad” post, here:  I Retract My Republican-Party-Bad Post. 


On the blog section of the website for his new book “The Righteous Mind,” Jonathan Haidt posted a short essay entitled “Conservatives Good, Republican Party Bad.”

I posted a comment to Dr. Haidt’s essay on his blog.  I’m repeating that comment here in this post,  with some very minor edits to fix some misspellings I missed while proofreading the original note (e.g., I spelled Richard Shweder’s last name wrong, and I wrote “viscous” when I meant to write “vicious”.)  Also, FYI, Sanpete is one of the other commenters to Dr. Haidt’s blog.


I have to agree with Sanpete when he says “You’ve been carried away!”

You know I read your work extensively and closely.

When people first meet they get impressions of one another and draw conclusions about what the other person is like. But if the two people relate with one another regularly over a period of weeks, months, or years, they begin to notice patterns of behavior about each other that are not evident at first blush.

After living with you, so to speak, over the past few years by reading your work and watching your videos online I’ve begun to have the unsettling feeling that your understanding of conservatives and conservatism is mostly academic and intellectual, but you still don’t really “get” them at an intuitive level.

The disciplined, scientific approach you take to studying morality is necessarily reductive. This is not a fault, per se. All science is that way. I don’t mean to say you’re doing something wrong. But I think the result of that kind of analysis, in combination with your liberal roots, is that while on the one hand you can explain conservatives from an analytical point of view, you can’t really put yourself in their shoes and think from within the conservative moral matrix.

I think this new position of yours vindicates my unsettling feeling.

Your intellectual academic understanding of conservatism comes from the epiphanies you experienced during your trip to India, and from reading Muller, from extensive readings of people like Hume and Burke, from similar surveys of research from the likes of E.O. Wilson, Boehm, Shweder, Durkheim, etc, and from your own wide and deep research.

But that’s all happening within your rider, while at the same time your liberal elephant is trying really hard to pull you back onto its original path. And so, when the elephant finally wins the battle and you want to conclude that the Republican Party is to blame for current problems, you abandon your disciplined scientific approach and hang your position on what is largely the motivated reasoning of essentially three people; Ornstein, Mann, and Edsall.

You may point out that your opinion is based on much more than just the three of them, and that’s fine, but my larger point remains. It seems to me that when your essentially liberal elephant wins the partisan battle with your fair minded, scientific, centrist rider, you resort to the same sort of “fuzzy thinking” The Righteous Mind seems to admonish us to avoid.

Before you hitch your wagon to Ornstein and Mann you might consider the counter argument in the blog piece on HotAir that I linked to in a previous comment, which says, among other things that:

“Although Ornstein and Mann claim to “have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted,” they provide no links to all the op-eds they did about the extreme statements about Republicans being Un-American, comparing them to fascists, Nazis, racists and so on made by Democratic Reps. Nancy Pelosi (on her own and with Steny Hoyer), George Miller, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Barney Frank, Maxine Waters, Jerrold Nadler, Jesse Jackson Jr., Sam Gibbons, Tom Lantos, Keith Ellison, Baron Hill, Jared Polis, Steve Cohen, Sheila Jackson Lee, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Louise Slaughter. Or Senators Robert Byrd and Blanche Lincoln. Or current Califonia governor Jerry Brown. Or repeat offender Al Gore. People might be forgiven for thinking Democrats, not to mention Ornstein and Mann, take that extreme rhetoric for granted in their rush to condemn the GOP.”

You might also consider Chris Cillizza in an article entitled “Is polarization really all Republican’s fault?” in a the Washington Post blog, which exposes some of the weaknesses in Ornstein and Mann’s qualitative arguments:

“Mann and Ornstein cite comments made by former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who called his party “irresponsible”, as evidence that the GOP has moved away from its once-inclusive nature.

But, for every Chuck Hagel there’s a Joe Lieberman who fell so far out of favor with the Democratic party over his stance on the war in Iraq that he was defeated in party primary, became an independent, won that race and then went on to speak at the Republican National Convention in 2008. (Yes, it is beyond odd that all of that happened in the last six years.)

Mann and Ornstein also cite the fact that moderate statesmen in the GOP are virtually non-existent these days with the departures of the likes of former Missouri Sen. John Danforth and former Illinois Rep. Bob Michel. (They could have, but didn’t, include the retiring Olympia Snowe of Maine in that construct too.)

But, a look at the recent departures from the Senate Democratic ranks suggests their number of moderates is also very much on the decline. Already in 2012, Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jim Webb (Va.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) have called it quits. Add to that the likes of Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) all of whom left in 2010, and it’s clear that the centrist Democratic ranks have taken a major hit over the last four years too.”

And you also might consider the possibility that Mann and Ornstein are misinterpreting the data they rely on, as Sean Trende pointed out in Real Clear Politics in a piece he wrote entitled “What Has Made Congress More Polarized?”:

“Mann and Ornstein are referring to data generated by Poole and Rosenthal’s famous DW-NOMINATE program — one of the great achievements of modern political science.

The claim that Republicans are mostly to blame for the increase in polarization is usually accompanied by the claim — also based upon DW-NOMINATE data — that Republicans are now more conservative than they have been at any point since the 1880s. This is a misapplication of DW-NOMINATE.

The DW-NOMINATE data can show that the current Congress is the most polarized in history (since that is a relative measurement), they cannot really show us who is to blame for that polarization. Without any lodestone to hold the “center” steady, we can’t tell who has moved the farthest away from that “center.” And because we have a pretty good sense that the center shifts from Congress to Congress, especially when control of that body changes hands, it becomes almost impossible to make meaningful comparisons between even two Congresses, let alone over the course of multiple decades.

Again, to illustrate this point, DW-NOMINATE suggests that Congress became much less polarized in the 1920s and 30s, which is probably true. But it suggests that both parties moved toward the center (and that both Northern and Southern Democrats, on average moved toward the center). There simply isn’t any support for the idea that the Democrats in the 1936 Congress were, on average, more conservative than Democrats in the 1926 Congress, at least in the sense that contemporary pundits use the term. But as the agenda moved leftward, the rise of the Conservative Coalition has the effect of pulling both parties toward the center, even though, overall, both were probably becoming more liberal.

DW-NOMINATE remains a powerful tool, especially if you keep its limitations in mind and are looking at discrete Congresses (or really are interested purely in polarization). It even sheds interesting light on realignment theory. But it really doesn’t do any of the things the popular press is claiming it does, at least not particularly well. “

As far as Edsall’s analysis is concerned, the notion that “as people get more partisan, the liberals go up on empathy and the conservatives go down — they get more hard-hearted” is narrow-minded thinking that looks at only one small sliver of the picture of conservatism and then draws a conclusion about the whole picture. It’s the intellectual equivalent of the way the New Atheists think of religion, seeing it as “a set of beliefs about the world, many of which are demonstrably false.”

Further, you yourself have pointed out that the Democratic and Republican parties have become essentially ideologically pure. You’ve said that there used to be liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, but that situation essentially no longer exists, so that now the two parties are ideologically pure. It is my personal opinion, therefore, that to say that conservatives are good but the Republican Party is bad is to make a distinction without a difference. I think it’s a smoke screen, a rationalization that allows you to come out from behind the screen of scientific impartiality you’ve mostly maintained to date.

I respectfully suggest that in the same way “sociologists who study religion stress the role of ritual and community much more than of factual beliefs,” you might benefit from considering Cantor and Republican views from the larger perspective. Try to think of them as the Indian people you lived among, and try to see the universe from within the six-foundation moral matrix of conservatism.

I think that if you were able to do that you would find that for all the insight your reductive analyses of conservatism and liberalism through graphs of moral foundations provide – which show a split on the left, liberal, end of the x axis, and a tight group on the right, conservative, end of the x axis –they do not tell the whole story.

Conservatism, and, I’m sure, liberalism too, is no more a collection of moral foundations than a home is a collection of two-by-fours, wiring, plumbing, and insulation. It is a state of being. It is an intuitive sense of, and for, the social universe that is a synergistic aggregate of everything that makes up the psyche.

One’s morality is a form of existence. It is a way of inhabiting one’s self, as well as the social world. It is a way of perceiving and interpreting and interacting with all the other “selfs” in the world. It is the inherent, internal, subconscious GPS that guides the intuitive elephant during its short stay here on the planet. There’s more, much much more, to what it means to be conservative than just a simple listing of moral foundations. David Brooks does a good job of explaining this sense of being in his book The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

In my view, Mann, Ornstein, Edsall, and you, in concluding that the Republican Party is “Bad” are all missing the forest for the trees; you see the two by fours but not the home. By concluding that Cantor, Tiberi, and the others seem “happy to consider raising some taxes on the poor, or of shifting more of the tax burden onto the poor,” I think you are looking only at the street those people are currently on, and you are ignoring the destination their internal GPS is trying to get us all to reach. You’re position strikes me a bit like that of an unknowing child who is resentful of a parent who is admonishing him not to stick a knife into an electrical outlet. The problem is not that the parent is wrong, the problem is that the child does not grasp the reality of the situation, but he doesn’t know it, so he lashes out at the parent.

A sacred value of the conservative state of being is the concept of negative liberty. This concept infuses every aspect of the conservative soul. It partly defines the “situated self” of the conservative elephant (as opposed to the “unencumbered self” of the liberal elephant). It is in their cell structure. This “sense” applies not just to liberty. It applies to everything, including ideas like equality, justice, and especially fairness.

To illustrate, consider a weekly poker game in which I play, and in which I lose every time. To a conservative, if everyone follows the rules, and if nobody cheats, then the game is fair. But to a liberal, since everyone else in the game is obviously so much better at it than I am, then the game is inherently unfair.

To the liberal, fairness is an outcome. It is a relatively equal probability that everyone in the game will have a positive result. In order for this sense of “fairness” to be achieved, the game must be rigged – society and human nature must be “fixed” – to place a handicap on the best players, and/or to artificially elevate the worst players, so that every player has a roughly equal chance of a positive result. It means different rules for different people. It means forcing leaders into the position of playing god by making them decide which types of people are deserving of the benefits of the rigged game and which types are deserving of paying for them, and it means having faith that the leaders “get it” and will pick the “right” winners and losers. This is the liberal, Democratic Party, sacred value of fairness.

To the conservative, and to the Republican Party, fairness is a process. It is one set of rules that applies, and is applied, the same to everyone. It is impartial. It does not favor one person or group of people above another. It does not force anyone to play god. This conception of fairness is a sacred value not only of conservatism, but of the Republican Party as well.

“Care” is also a sacred value of conservatism. Your own data, your own conclusions, show that conservatives care, practically speaking, every bit as much as liberals and the Democratic Party do, especially when you consider that looking out for the hive is also a form of care (but which you don’t count as care in your analyses). Conservatives and the Republican Party care so much so that they are willing to accept, and in fact have accepted, a large number of “progressive” ideas, not the least of which is progressive taxes, which go against their sacred value of fairness as a process. They balance “care” against “fairness.”

The conservative tradeoff between care and fairness illustrates another sacred value of conservatism and the Republican Party: the Yin/Yang balance between the ethics of autonomy and community/sanctity. This, too, is proven by your own data and analyses. While some amount of care is great, too much of it, without the balance of the other ethics, amounts to Pathological Altruism, where “care” does more harm than good. This realization – that the balance of the Yin of autonomy against the Yang of community/sanctity – which follows from the six-foundation grasp of human nature (which you have shown is better than the three-foundation grasp) is a sacred value of conservatism and of the Republican Party as well.

It appears that the point of divergence between the ideologically pure conservative Republican Party and the ideologically pure liberal Democratic Party is that the conservative Republicans understand that there has to be a limit to “care,” and to “spreading the wealth around.” They realize that the Yin of autonomy and “care” must be balanced by the Yang of community and sanctity through, among other things, placing limits on the redistribution of wealth. They realize that at some point the liberal “rigging” of the game goes so far that it begins to do more harm than good – it fouls the hive – and it has to stop.

The liberal Democratic Party fixation on care, at the expense of practically all of the other foundations, apparently sees no such limit; it embraces no such tradeoff.

I’m sure you know the numbers. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. For example, the top 1 percent of taxpayers, who represent about 17 percent of all income in 2009, already pony up 37 percent of all federal taxes. In other words, they ALREADY pay more than TWICE their “fair share.” (Data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ) I could go on and on with the numbers. I could show that similar disparities exist in every quintile. I could show, for example, that no amount of tax increases will ever be able to reduce the deficit. I could show that payroll taxes have some affect on the overall result, but not much, and that when the income of the poor is calculated it seldom, if ever, accounts for all of the benefits and transfer payments they receive from the government. For more discussion on this see Thomas Sowell’s book Economic Facts and Fallacies.

But the point I’m trying to make – the problem, your problem, as I see it – is not about the numbers. The problem is that the conservative Republican Party “constrained vision” of human nature, is, apparently, not part of the liberal, Democratic, “unconstrained vision” of the moral universe. No matter how progressive the taxes, no matter how disproportionately “the rich” are taxed in relation to everyone else, and no matter how totally out of control government spending gets, the liberal Democratic Party always wants more. More taxes. More spending. More. More, more, more. Care care care.

The result is, as David Brooks described in The Opinion Pages of The New York Times on May 18th, in an article entitled “The Age of Innocence“, the real reason Europe and America are failing, is that the Yin/Yang “balanced wisdom” of conservatism has been lost in favor of the unbalanced Yin of the entitlement mentality, social justice, and “care” of liberalism.

And what solution does the liberal Democratic Party propose as the solution to this overdose of Yin that is destroying the hive? Why, more of it, of course. More more more. Care care care. Yin yin yin.

At some point, Jon, you have to realize that that the constant, relentless pressure from the liberal Democratic Party for “more,” and the actual fact of ever increasing taxes AND spending – and the very real consequences in the form of the financial meltdown that virtually the entire Western world is currently experiencing – will eventually violate the conservative Republican sacred value of fairness as a process rather than as an outcome, and of the conservative Republican sacred value of the Yin/Yang balance between “care” for the individual and the needs of the greater community as a whole.

At some point, you have to stop looking at conservatives and the Republican Party the way the New Atheists look at religion, see the larger picture, and realize that the liberal Democratic Party is committing sacrilege, as you described in your CCARE talk, to such an egregious degree that the Republican Party is literally forced to “circle the wagons” around its sacred values to protect them.

Is it really that hard to see and understand that the absurdity of the position of the liberal Democratic party’s insistence on more taxes and more spending, especially when that’s what got us into this mess, is what Cantor and Tiberi and others, and the Republican Party is responding to? Can you not see that it is a deep and vicious violation of the very essence of the six foundation morality, its sense of fairness, and its cell-level sense of the “balanced wisdom” (from the David Brooks article) of Yin/Yang? Is it really that difficult to understand that Cantor and Tiberi and the Republican party have been pushed so far beyond the limits of what their morality- their “situated self” – can tolerate that they are lashing out with what amounts to an “irrational commitment” to their sense of fairness; that by saying that maybe we should raise taxes on the poor they are using the absurd to point out the absurdity of the Democratic Party’s positions, and its utter blindness to the fact, yes fact, that liberalism is the real cause of the current crisis?

Is it really that hard to see that the position of the Republican Party is nothing if not a “deeply principled stance”?

If so, then I am deeply disappointed in you, because apparently you’ve forgotten what The Righteous Mind is trying to teach.

(And further, as an aside, I’m stunned that, in the face of the ramming down our collective throats of Obamacare, with its massive new unfunded entitlements, that the Democratic Party committed against the American people, and proudly so, on top of, and in the midst of, a financial crises that they essentially caused through their Yin of pathological “care,” that anyone, most especially you, could possibly take the position that Republicans are to blame for what ails us today. It defies reason, and the facts of history.)

And further still, with all of your insight, and what you learned from Muller – that conservatism is a reasoned, principled, approach to doing the best for the most – it is literally beyond belief, and something that I thought I’d never in a million years hear from you of all people, that “Republicans traditional favored a hand up, not a hand out. They may now favor neither, because they think the poor deserve to be poor.” Seriously, I am shocked. Truly. And deeply saddened, to hear you utter, or to see those words written by you.  (Do you really belive in your heart that Republicans think the poor “deserve” to be poor, as in, “they had it coming”?  I simply cannot belive that you do.)

I have been a great fan of yours for some time now because I had the impression that you followed the evidence of social science research even if it was counter to your own personal tendencies. I have admired your intellectual strength. This has been a large portion of the reason I have explained and advocated your ideas in practically every conversation I have regarding politics and religion.

But now, it seems, you’ve abandoned the disciplined research and science-based origins of your views and instead hitched your wagon to some articles by a small number of obviously partisan political pundits. What happened to all of your documentary research, your epiphanies, and your own statistical evidence? What happened to all the insights you gained from those things, which you described so eloquently in The Righteous Mind? Now that the book is out, is the baby gone with the bathwater?

Have I been wrong about you all this time?

If I had to guess, I’d say no. I know you better than that, and I know you’re better than that. I’d say that the onslaught of criticism and cajoling from both sides of the political aisle that have resulted from the release of The Righteous Mind, in combination with “your natural liberal inclinations,” have, as Sanpete said, “carried you away!”


5 thoughts on “Response to “Conservatives Good, Republican Party Bad”

  1. I tried to post this at Jon’s site, but maybe comments have been disabled for that page. I suppose you’ve seen his retraction, with a promise of more to come.

    I wonder if you’re applying the same standard to Jon that you apply to you and me, or if it’s different because he’s a centrist and scientist with higher aspirations than most of us for avoiding partisan pitfalls and with a record of some success. You’re disappointed by his use of partisan sources and not understanding conservatism well, which is sensible enough. But do you and I do any better, and should we?

    Maybe you realize that your understanding of liberals as expressed here is no more acceptable to liberals than Jon’s understanding of conservatives above is to you. I don’t think in the simplistic way the way you say liberals think about fairness and care, for example; most liberals don’t (perhaps some hardline socialists do). It appears to me what you say relies largely on partisan sources for its view of liberalism and for some questionable factual premises. Sowell, for example, may be great for understanding how conservatives think, but I wouldn’t trust him to explain how liberals think or to be neutral with regard to facts.

    A related issue has come up in a review at Amazon. The main complaint about the book from the reviewer is that it doesn’t take into account developmental psychology, and particularly the kind that sees psychological development in terms of well defined stages from primitive or immature or the like to advanced or mature or the like. It got me to wondering if Jon views his development that way, and whether he sees being postpartisan as better than being partisan on the whole. Given the advantages of hivishness, it seems to me he is and ought to be ambivalent about that. What he seems to want isn’t that partisans become centrists or postpartisans, but only that they become more understanding of and cooperative with the other side(s). That would seem to require a similar standard regarding reliance on partisan sources and such, but perhaps to a less strict degree. (Postpartisans are useful too, but in smaller numbers, it seems.)

    On Mann and Ornstein. for what it’s worth, I don’t think Jon is wrong to personally accept their views, which have at least some bipartisan credentials, though I’m not sure there’s usually much point to focusing on such broad blame where the differences are matters of degree and the ideas are complex enough that they’re bound to cause more fuss than good. The links and quotes you provide are useful in giving a fuller picture, and pointing out some difficulties of interpreting the data. It’s true that all the evils that exist among Republicans exist among Democrats in some form, moderate Democrats are being squeezed out by more extreme Democrats, Republican positions are sometimes supported by popular sentiment, and so on. But it remains that there have been recently and still are more moderate Democrats than moderate Republicans in Congress, as measured by cross-party voting, comparisons to former members, renunciations of policies formerly endorsed, and so on, and that this matters in practice. Moderate Republicans have acknowledged this.

    This fits with Jon’s view that conservatives are more hivish, which lends itself to greater and more effective partisanship. That’s been true for a long time, though. I think the main change lately has been in the media environment, which drives voters. Both sides have suffered from the increased ideological ghettoization of the media, but the conservative response to liberal dominance in the media has been more extreme in partisanship and tone than the liberal media it challenged, on the whole. Fox and conservative talk radio are more influential on the Right than the likes of MSNBC or HuffPo are on the Left, which tends to be more comfortable with more moderate sources that try to be nonpartisan. It’s easy for them to be more comfortable with sources dominated by like-minded people, of course.


    Posted by Sanpete | May 21, 2012, 1:10 pm
  2. I knew that was coming, Gordon. Long and overwrought as usual, but well-reasoned and, I think, quite fair to Jon.

    Well, here we are, reunited, fated to share this MFT flotsam awhile longer together. We all three, so recently lauded by him, all turned and pummelled him on his rude points- sanpete in his circumspect, clear way, Gordon in his, and me using neither the sensitivity or thoroughness of the other musketeers…Jon seems to realize his error now, and will likely address some of Gordon’s points to satisfaction. It does him credit to wrestle in full light of day in this candid and embarrassing way, and it will do him good- this is not a tuition he will care to pay again soon. Ideology is best thought of as mostly inherited: his current views are thus a translative and scientific overlay on the narrower moral base he seems to’ve inherited, a base he defaulted to in an emotional spate of current event study. That stretching to prescription may still be a little failing from now on, but the measure of the man is elsewhere. He is no political pundit- he’s ‘merely’ gifted to well explain our motivations to ourselves. I do not think it possible to trot through the media maze as the political psychology expert du jour without occasionally forgetting distinctions between himself and Brooks/Frum/Sullivan. This experience will calibrate him. My own perspective is to value him- greatly- within his realm of expertise, hope he stays better circumscribed by it, and pay little attention when he is addressing anything whatsoever about current events. I suspect that, from now on, he’ll be a bit less flagrant with his opinions, so they don’t chance to occlude his science, as this rash razzdazzle of instapunditry has. I couldn’t agree at all with his main points re rqmts for “massive” Republican change, that “the system is broken”, and esp the intimations re integrity.

    Gordon, as usual, I’ll be less fine graded than sanpete- this ” But to a liberal, since everyone else in the game is obviously so much better at it than I am, then the game is inherently unfair” isn’t even a decent joke, esp when followed by the peevishness of the following paragraph of general bombast, which I suspect, sadly, you view as open-faced fact. I would also submit, more gently because of the partial truth of it, that your monotonic view of our perspective on expenditures, in which you so simplistically decry government expenditure as, more-or-less, a solely (and general) liberal phenomenon over and over, is neither historically accurate, nor careful of the times, context, or sector of government being considered. You’re an intelligent fellow: at the least, please use ‘some’, ‘many’, ‘often’, or more specific clarifying modifiers. Partial pictures can be very helpful in extracting clarity about liberals. You betray ignorance when sketching in such broad strokes. You should make accurate points without engendering this scree, so you don’t risk that others think your assured, blurry images ‘proclaim the man’. I realize you think yourself a bearer of more truth than me, and that’s a reasonable, maybe accurate perspective. I only ask you to make an attempt to grasp those that you castigate in less faceless terms. From here, you look like a fellow that leaped at MFT as a great validator of your world view, to enjoy a following sea- which is fine. But reveling in facelessness, a lack of even minimal recognition of heterogeneity within our outgroups, is the enabler of some of the most important biases, the fundamental attribution error in particular. I watch Fox, read Anne Coulter, get a daily conservative news update, and subscribe to a few weekly-ish conservative bloggers. You don’t have to go overboard like me, of course, but I just see little evidence of basic understanding of your outgroup in your essays, let alone the appreciation you could gain, that I gain from the process of reaching out. With even a little of that, and with no implied twisting of your current perspective, your compatriots will benefit, you’ll be far more accurate, and you’ll draw others into your circle of interaction that are not just within arm’s reach of you ideologically.


    Posted by jswagner | May 21, 2012, 10:16 pm
  3. >What he seems to want isn’t that partisans become centrists or postpartisans, but only that they become more understanding of and cooperative

    Yes, I think so. I make the case elsewhere that we need partisans, that that’s the way we get the disparate needs of society addressed best- specialists, if you will, who care most about each side of only-somewhat-competing but valid interests, like positive and negative liberty. People forget how frustrated America was in the late ’50’s/early ’60’s with parties that provided little diversity for the voters- similar cries of inefficiency and stagnation, for an opposite reason.

    But I’m both more and less ambitious than Dr. Haidt, in that I don’t ask for cooperation per se, just understanding. There will be times when cooperation is not called for, because the other is far off base in our estimation. I think that’s a fairly common situation. “Can we all get along?” is no moral framework to me. In the continuum from unity to war, we should try to sidle up to each other on the jolly side, certainly, for the simple reason of far better efficacy. But hurling tea into the seas in one environment, or distorting senate process to block appointments in another, seem to me perfectly legitimate tactics given the impetus. It’ll be left to the voters to sort out how much cooperation is valued, and I think that’s right. I think it all best observed in the long run. I believe there’s hidden strength in democracy’s foibles- that we will go too far here and there, and chase self-interest too much, before we come to our senses on a point through too much suffering or injustice to one side or the other. These are very difficult, wrenching times of change, with those on all sides sure of their means and ends yet riddled with error. Our children will look back at these times and name them as the telling ones, like we do now with the great wars. The world has never seen a tide like this of demographic morphing, of disintermediation through technology and globalization, and the much-increased risk of nuclear annihilation through fervent minorities. We are going to screw this up- the only questions are how badly, and how. I personally welcome some great division before the boldest cock of the morning crows, because of the idiocracy that entangles us both, and the need to expropriate some measure of sense out of it all. I don’t see another way to the further shore. The large mass of undeclared voters, those who are not partisan per se, will act like a keel that arights us again and again in these heavy seas.

    Understanding is quite difficult enough, and lacking in the extreme. Cooperation will no doubt increase as a function of efficiency as we become less faceless to each other, but that likelihood is immaterial and, to me, much overemphasized between the two, Someone quoted Patton here about him having read Rommel’s book: understanding sets tactics and strategies against each other in clear relief, with the level of cooperation involved a self-apparent detail. This is in accordance with a Zen principle I teach my children: first and finally, just properly notice the world- the rest tends to unfold mysteriously. People tend to predict and prescribe, when the task is often more akin to predicting what a drop of dye will do in a taffy pulling machine. We claim allegiance to principles that we violate through ignorance and ironic abuse of them, and claim balance while the enemy and their concerns are left a welcome mystery.


    Posted by jswagner | May 22, 2012, 12:37 pm
    • Scott, I appreciate your efforts to make me out to be the good cop!

      I think you and Jon are in agreement about cooperation, except perhaps in your not seeking it directly. He’s not calling for cooperation all the time, just more than there is presently. The inability of Congress to act rationally about pressing matters like the recession and deficits indicates more would be useful, I think. The impasse over budgetary matters has reportedly already made things worse by reducing market confidence, while needed changes we already know we need are put off and will thus need to be more of a shock when carried out. Similar things could be said about immigration reform, filling judicial vacancies, etc.

      I’m not sure what you’d like to see a more clear division over, but more clear failure may not make people less certain of their views. The most popular idea on each side is usually that failures were due to not doing enough of what they favored. The middle is apathetic enough that it may take clear failure to move them, but if change can be achieved without that, all the better. I personally prefer avoiding failure when possible. Not very Zen, perhaps.


      Posted by Sanpete | May 24, 2012, 11:59 am
      • The bit about Zen was about the miracle of paying attention, not vagaries about failure or such…yes, there’s agreement with Haidt in the sense that I’d like more cooperation- I just don’t think we’re going to get it, and I’d much settle for understanding, which results in cooperation indirectly. My argument is just a fancy way of saying it’s amazing how poorly we understand each other, and how impossible it is to cooperate when we fall prey to the fundamental attribution error in our ignorance, or, in Haidt’s terms, when we let the elephant figure out the agenda. Now we’ve segregated our media and our physical locales, to clump further- that’s not an easily countered wave of effects.

        You’re more sensible and moderate than me- the ‘clear division’ I hope for is a long-run perspective, a hope for either the Democrats or Republicans to get their way more, and to have a clearer mistake made for the ‘apathetic’ (harsh, by the way) middle to swing on any of a variety of issues I see both parties screwing up. I’m holding out for the kind of foolishness and ideological segregations that will lead to filibuster reform, a few senate rule changes, and constitutional change about money in politics via voter revolt. This: “the most popular idea on each side is usually that failures were due to not doing enough of what they favored” has a lot of truth, but I have a lot of faith in those not on a side- moderates, the apathetic (who I often find to be wisely uninvolved, i.e., empirically impotent), and the undecided- to create change. Just don’t see my rather narrow set of things I care about happening without recruiting those by traveling further along this road. I think there are virtual Burkeans that will take the field, and others roughly as sensible. I believe in that middle mush of crowd, a lot. I do think you’re in for more non-cooperation before you get less, though there’s a fringe of thawing- and the prospect doesn’t scare me…having said all that, I’m not sure my viewpoint is worth much- maybe I just use it to stay unruffled, and your point re worse trench warfare is the more likely. I don’t feel personally very good at figuring out what will, or even should, happen in the actual physical world. I feel much more comfortable trying to understand conservatives than trying to figure out what to do about them, and about liberal foibles.


        Posted by Scott Wagner | May 28, 2012, 3:27 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

I Support Viewpoint Diversity


A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

An Interpretation of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory

This sidebar lists a series of posts which together make up an essay relating Moral Foundations Theory to today's politics, and even a little history, as viewed through The Independent Whig's six-foundation moral lens.


Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Traits and Moral Foundations and

%d bloggers like this: